Is officiating only about calling fouls and violations?

Is officiating only about calling fouls and violations?

One of the major concerns, when teaching newcomers to become officials, is that almost all their focus is on recognising fouls and violations and then penalising them. Therefore beginners not only concentrate on where to stand, but will also find that intense observation takes on an importance of its own; importance, meaning, discovering participants’ behaviour that is illegal under the rules.

Such concentration and obsession with the rules can turn officials into policemen, believing that their role is to arrest anyone who breaks the rules. The emphasis on detection also means that it is possible for officials to operate as though ‘their’ game is the one being played rather than the one actually being played between the two teams.

Why do large numbers of officials behave in this way, over zealous in calling fouls and violations? It is the way they are ‘reared’ in officiating; they go out onto the court looking for fouls and violations. The rulebook helps them by defining infractions precisely, the same with any element of body contact.

It takes many games of officiating before the astute official begins to understand the fine distinctions that must be made in order for a game to be handled smoothly and fairly. A slow learner may never reach such a level of competence.

There are natural intervals in a game when things are stopped, an interruption in the ‘flow’ occurs and officials are well advised to acknowledge that interruption by not being too hasty in resuming the game. Do not intrude into the game unnecessarily; let the participants lead the momentum. The overall job of an official is to ensure that both teams play the game smoothly and fairly.

Often we hear the slogan “see a foul, call a foul”. The sooner you learn to forget this slogan the faster you will become a better official. Officials must learn to communicate, with players softly but firmly, to partner officials positively and clearly in order to develop and command respect.

Officials are frequently told to “see the whole play” before calling an infraction. Often, however, they call the infraction when they have not seen the whole play, thinking that they have. You will never develop into an excellent official by calling infractions on ‘impulse’.

The obvious fouls (the ‘elephants’) are pretty easy to call if you see them. If you are not concentrating in your primary area, you may well not see them. Too many times such a lack of concentration causes officials to whistle ‘questionable’ contact (the ‘flies’) because the obvious fouls have been missed. Your priority should always be to concentrate in your primary area. Contact away from the ball demands equal concentration especially when it is in your primary area of responsibility, do not follow the ball when it is out of your primary area.

As the official becomes more experienced, peripheral vision becomes a greater asset. The ability to be in total control of one’s own primary area whilst at the same time being able to monitor the play in your secondary area of responsibility, especially away from the ball, is the hallmark of a good referee. Reading the game, anticipating the plays, understanding the tactics and immersing yourself in the ‘flow’ of the game will enable you to develop an experienced ‘feel’ for the game.

Such qualities in officials do not go unrecognized by coaches, players and officials’ supervisors.


by Alan Richardson


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